To the editor of THE EAGLE:
On Nov. 5, the residents of Great Barrington are going to decide whether to approve the expenditure of $56 million to renovate Monument Mountain Regional High School, part of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District (BHRSD). After state funds, the remaining $31 million will be borne by the taxpayers of the district with Great Barrington paying the lion’s share. Here are critical numbers that residents of Great Barrington will find almost unbelievable:
* The cost per student, according to the BHRSD, is $15,632.
* Choice-in tuition rates are set by the state at $5,000 per student.
* Tuition-in rates are negotiated between the school board and other participating school districts that want to send their children to BHRSD. The rates are approximately $7,500 per student.
Let’s do the math for the high school. choice-in pays $5,000 x 120 students, equaling $600,000, Tuition-in pay approximately $7,500 x 83 students, equaling $622,500. The total tuition we receive from these students is $1,222,500. Yet, it costs the district $3,173,296 ($15,632 x 203 students) to educate children from outside our district. This results in BHRSD paying approximately $2 million more than the tuition received to educate other people’s children. The only conclusion one could draw is that we are paying for a large infrastructure while other towns just pay a fraction of the total cost.
As I see it, the crux of the problem is that we keep building schools that are too big and expensive, then justifying additional students, that we have to subsidize, in order to keep them filled.
You will be told, "We need larger classes to make economic sense of certain education programs," "We have this existing large overhead" and "We have a waiting list of outsiders wanting to attend BHRSD schools." The bottom line is we could buy a lot of specialized educational programs with a small portion of $2 million spent on educating other people’s children. Overhead can be reduced with a smaller facility. And finally, who wouldn’t want to send their children to a district that pays much of their cost.
Before taxpayers of Great Barrington approve this expenditure, other alternatives should be explored. I am sure there are many bright and well-meaning people who could come up with plans to correct this unfair disparity.
The only way things will change is if we "No" on Nov. 5. We have to require our school and town representatives to present us with new, fairer alternatives.